Budapest Castle and the Danube River, Hungary
Best weather: May-September.
Worst: November-February (grey, damp and cold)
Length of stay:
Minimum worthwhile stay, not incl. flights: Budapest for a wild weekend.
Recommended: 9 days to take in Budapest and some of the surrounding towns and countryside.
Hungary’s main attractions
***Budapest, a diverse, interesting city with plenty of action.
Just 20km (12m) north of the capital this pretty, hilly area is a popular – if crowded – tourist target.
Szentendre is an attractive place to see art in all forms, as well as venerable structures on winding streets. Visegrad at 40kms (25mls) also offers a few impressive historic sights, but much smaller and less busy than its big sister. Esztergom is less worthy of your time.
Hiking: many well-marked, attractive trails cross the hilly north and west parts of Hungary and hikes range from half a day to a week.
Volcanic Badacsony’s basalt towers beside Lake Balaton or those in the Tapolca Basin are favourites, as are walks around the Danube Bend.
Caves: In the north east the spectacular Baradla Cave in the Aggtelek cave system is a World Heritage site. There are many kilometres of limestone caves walkable on daily tours.
Canoeing: the are many excellent tranquil routes, including through nature reserves. Birds sightings are common. The Great Plain’s Tisza River is especially popular, as is the Bodrog River.
Biking: excellent tracks run beside the Danube in Buda and Szentendre, around Lake Balaton and various mountain ranges such as Matra.
Bikes can be taken on most trains, with a ticket.
They are not allowed on some main roads and tramlines and cobblestones can be tricky.
Windsurfing and Sailing: Lake Balaton (77km x 6km) is only 3m (10ft) deep, has no currents, warm summer water (21C) and has lots of rental possibilities especially on the south (east) shore).
Bird watching: in the Hortobagy National Park, 40km (25m) from Debrecen. Over 300 species of bird hang out in this huge wetland reserve, including great bustards. Cars are not permitted and a guide is useful.
Horse riding: The Magyars were warrior horsemen a thousand years ago so this is the right place to have a wild ride.
Riding centres can be found in most areas, but especially near Budapest, around Lake Balaton and on the Great Plain (Puszta) where genuine Hungarian cowboys still live to ride. The largest riding centre is Epona Riding Village in the Hortobagy Park. Horse carriages are also for rent.
Golf: there are a dozen good courses around Budapest and in the west of Hungary, Transdanubia.
The world famous spa in the Gellert Hotel, Budapest
These natural, hot, mineral pools – are both a social occasion and a way to treat different physical conditions according to the mineral content of each spring. Specialists can recommend appropriate therapies to deal with various problems.
Budapest claims to be the spa capital of the world with over 30 thermal springs (Hungary’s total is over 1, 000), and the most famous spa is in Buda’s gorgeous Gellert Hotel with spacious Széchenyi baths, over the Danube in Pest, coming a close second.